If 2013 came to an end right now, “Much Ado About Nothing,” which opens Friday, would top my end-of-year list (and many other critics’, I’d wager). It’s an absolute joy of a film — it’s funny and sexy and romantic and hits every note in Shakespeare’s story perfectly. The music is great. The performances are phenomenal. (Alexis Denisof is particularly outstanding as Benedick, especially when he does many pushups. He doesn’t really float my boat, but the tide certainly rises with each rep.)
My only disappointment is that the film hasn’t got a shot at the Oscar for best picture. At its core, it’s a romantic comedy — and therefore, says They, unworthy of Oscar consideration. “But ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ was nominated for best picture last year!” you say. The catch is that “Playbook” is the only kind of funny movie the Academy deems worthy of respect (it’s similar to “As Good As It Gets,” nominated in 1997): one in which someone (usually the guy) is fundamentally damaged and someone (usually the woman) can fix him through the Power of Love. That’s not a romantic comedy. That’s a sign one or both of them needs to go to therapy.
“The Artist,” which won in 2012, was funny, but the leads never even kissed; romance was suggested, but they could just as easily have been friends.
There’s a long-standing bias against comedy, particularly when you add love to the mix. Watching a funny movie is easy. It’s more difficult to watch someone wail and cry, so we assume it’s more difficult to portray. Comedic timing and romantic chemistry, though — it’s a miracle anyone can pull that off convincingly, much less as wonderfully as director Joss Whedon does here.
There is hope. A romantic comedy took the top prize in 1999: It was “Shakespeare in Love.” Maybe the Bard will be “Much Ado’s” lucky charm.